Haskell was given the first extended summer break of his career when he was rested for the June tour to South Africa and the veteran flanker took the opportunity to complete a dance music production course, travel and recover from the previous season.
The most daunting moment came in May when he took to the decks as the headline DJ at the Nation Federation of Young Farmers Clubs Annual Convention in Blackpool.
“It was incredible and probably the closest thing to playing a game,” said Haskell, who is preparing for his debut season at Northampton.
“You walk out at Twickenham to 80,000 people and don’t notice the crowd. When I walked out in Blackpool – and I underestimated this – there were 4,000 people and me.
“Their whole night was being defined whether I played good or bad music so when they start reacting well, it’s the best feeling in the world.
“When you DJ and play great music it makes you feel a million dollars, which is quite a nice experience.
“For the first time in my career I have had five weeks off, so maximised that. I followed the guys in South Africa, but I haven’t had too much to concern myself with.
“I’ve looked after my body and tried to switch off. Having been at Wasps for 12 years in total, I wanted to make sure I started at Saints in a good place.”
Danny Cipriani has vowed to “do everything I can” to remain firmly in the England picture after making his first Test match start for 10 years.
He also has a new club, reporting for Gloucester training last week and relishing being a driving force at the west country giants after leaving their Premiership rivals Wasps.
With the next Rugby World Cup just over a year away, the new season could prove a definitive one in 30-year-old Cipriani’s career.
Asked if he had returned from South Africa hungrier than ever, he said: “Yeah, definitely.
“But you’ve seen me for the last six seasons. I’ve been hungry and my focus hasn’t changed at all.”
Cipriani ended the three-Test tour with a tangible reward of an England starting place, and is fresh from a three-day training camp with Eddie Jones’ squad.
“My philosophy hasn’t changed,” he added. “I am trying to become a better Rugby player, and I’m in the right place to keep learning and play well.
“I’ve got back in. Right now, I’m in there, and I’ve got to do everything I can to stay there.”
Cipriani has settled seamlessly into life at Kingsholm, and he is relishing striking up a rapport with Gloucester fans he knows all about after a hostile reception as a visiting player in Wasps and Sale colours.
“It was just banter,” he said. “They used to shout out my ex-girlfriends’ names at me. It used to make me laugh.
“It’s such a tradition here at Gloucester – the Shed (terrace) – playing in front of it and the history behind it. I want to really do something special for this town, because if you get on a roll here, the whole of Gloucester just goes crazy.
“I will definitely be playing up to them – kissing the badge when I score!”
📸 Settling in with the Cherry & Whites pic.twitter.com/P01otd5mkT— Gloucester Rugby (@gloucesterrugby) July 31, 2018
Cipriani’s move to Gloucester surprised some – he had been consistently linked with top French clubs – but he has no doubt it was the right call.
“I had the luxury of signing pretty late,” he added. “Most teams had done their recruitment by then, so I could see who had recruited well and what the squads looked like.
“There is so much talent here, and what I have really learnt to do over the last few years is help the players around me play well. That’s what I will be trying to do here.
“When I met Johan (Ackermann, Gloucester head coach) and David (Humphreys, Rugby director) at the end of the season, that’s when I knew this felt like the right decision.
“I had been waiting for that (England) squad announcement, and when that happened I met Johan and David and knew that this was the place for me.”
As we head into the opening round of the Rugby Championship this weekend we preview each of the four competing nations. New Zealand have dominated the tournament winning five of the six incarnations since Argentina were added to the enlarged Tri-Nations in 2012, but can the Wallabies, Springboks or the Pumas break the All Blacks’ dominance this year?
The All Blacks. Just saying the name can send a shudder up the spine of the most confident opponent. Not only are the All Blacks the best team in the world, as they have been for many years, but they also play the most attractive style – a blend of highly skilled 15-man rugby characterized by fast ball movement combining backs and forwards seamlessly, dominant set-piece, precision and execution at the breakdown and making the right decisions. They are No.1 in the world for good reason.
One of the most intriguing back stories in the lead up to the All Blacks opening match of the Rugby Championship this Saturday has been the debate in New Zealand over who should wear the No10 jersey – Beauden Barrett (right) or Crusaders playmaker Richie Mo’unga. Barrett has worn the crown of the world’s best player for the last two seasons but so good has Mo’unga’s form been in Super Rugby this season, leading the Crusaders to the title, that the calls for change have been growing. Every nation wishes they had these problems.
The young Chiefs playmaker is the perfect utility player for any team. Potent in attack whether at flyhalf or fullback, McKenzie has devastating pace, an eye for the gap and superb distribution as well as a first class kicking game. With McKenzie in his squad it gives the All Blacks so many options as he can slot in at flyhalf or fullback and take over goal kicking duties and do all three superbly.
Where do you start? The All Blacks are superb in every department, with Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick dominating the lineout, a quality back row of Sam Cane, captain Kieran Read and Liam Squire and a scintillating backline from scrumhalf Aaron Smith right through to Rieko Ioane on the wing.
Few and far between. There is a theory that if you can dominate the All Blacks up front they are beatable – but just try to dominate them upfront. They have a world class front row in Owen Franks, Dane Coles or Cody Taylor and Joe Moody plus Whitelock and Retallick completing the tight five. Even if they do take a backward step in the first scrum, which happens from time-to-time the All Black pack will adjust and soon gain dominance.
There is an interesting question around Steve Hansen. Is he merely the coach of the best team in the world or are the All Blacks the best team in the world because he is the coach? There is no doubt he has managed the All Blacks superbly since he took over from Graham Henry in 2012 with a winning record of 91.17 percent (76W, 3D, 6L). Its not his fault he has such extraordinary talent at his disposal.
WHAT THEY SAID
“We’ve just got to go and re-capture the Bledisloe Cup and the attitude has to be ‘take it’ rather than expect it to happen.”
“We’ve got a lot of proud about what’s been done in the past but at the same time you’ve got to go and earn it, earn the right to put a hand on it. Even if we win this week it doesn’t mean we’ve won it.” – Steve Hansen, coach
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RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP RECORD